Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poverty: The Numbers; The Disparities

New estimates of poverty in the United States came from the Census Bureau yesterday.

Some good news. Overall, the percent of people living in poverty did not increase. (A decrease would be even better news.) Real median household income (meaning income adjusted for inflation) rose slightly.

However, some groups suffer more than others. African-Americans, for example, are 2-3 times more likely than Whites to live in poverty. And, the new data suggest that disparities among different groups, and disparities between the richest and the poorest in this country, have grown. Different states have experienced different trends in household income. Some have seen a decrease, rather than a rise.

Increased disparities are bad news for all of us. The young populations, on whom our communities depend for the next generation of consumers and producers, are the populations most affected by poverty. Their health, education, and quality of life suffer; as a result, the quality of life for all of us suffers, no matter what our income or our status.

These numbers come from just a sample; and they reflect one way of measuring income and poverty. They obviously have some error. Art Rolnick, of the Federal Reserve, suggests that they don't correspond with Commerce Department figures which show economic growth. It's important to look at different indicators, over time, to come to valid conclusions.

Nonetheless, even if the economy overall has improved, enough information from enough sources leads to the reasonable conclusion that the fruits of the economy are not flowing equally to all regions and to all types of people. We need to pay attention to this.

Interested in the Census Bureau report? It's on their web site:

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